23 February 2018

A new book brings
back memories of
many cups of coffee

Patrick Comerford

The Interfaith Working Group of the Church of Ireland has organised a consultation on interfaith matters in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, next Friday [2 March 2018].

The consultation is being introduced by Bishop Kenneth Kearon of Limerick and Killaloe, who chairs the Interfaith Working Group, and the speakers include Bishop Toby Howarth of Bradford and the Revd Suzanne Cousins of Moville, Co Donegal.

Bishop Toby Howarth has worked extensively on interfaith relations in the Church of England.

Before his appointment as Bishop of Bradford, he was Inter-Faith Adviser to the Bishop of Birmingham, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Secretary for Inter-Religious Affairs and National Adviser for Inter-Religious Affairs for the Church of England.

In the morning session, he is speaking on the report Generous Love: the truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue, produced by the Anglican Communion Network for Interfaith Concerns, and on how the Church of England approaches interfaith issues.

I have been invited to chair the afternoon session when the Revd Suzanne Cousins will present her dissertation, Generous Love in Multi-Faith Ireland, which is being published at a book launch in CITI later next month [14 March 2018].

Her book is the published version of her MTh dissertation for TCD, which I had the joy of supervising at CITI. While she was working on this dissertation in 2015-2016, Suzanne also received the Oulton Prize for Patristics, which enabled her to join me at the summer school in Sidney Sussex College organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. The topic of the summer school that year was ‘Christian Faith, Identity and Otherness: Possibilities and Limitations of Dialogue in Ecumenical and Interfaith Discourse’ [31 August to 2 September 2015].

She quotes me in a number of places in her book, and she is generous when she says in her acknowledgements (p 5): ‘I am especially grateful to my academic supervisor, the Revd Canon Patrick Comerford, for generously sharing with me his time, wisdom and expertise, and for his example of living engagement.’

This dissertation was a journey for both of us. It took Suzanne to many places I too enjoy, from Istanbul to Cambridge. Reading it this week brings back many memories of the process of supervision, many cups of coffee in Dublin, and even discussions in cafés in Cambridge and in Sidney Sussex College.

Memories of a summer school in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph; Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Ireland Gazette today [23 February 2018]carries this news report on Suzanne’s new book on the back page:

Forthcoming Braemor Studies book
looks at Christian-Muslim engagement
in the Church of Ireland

Generous Love in Multi-faith Ireland: Towards mature citizenship and a positive pedagogy for the Church of Ireland in local Christian-Muslim mission and engagement is the title of a new book to be launched in March by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson.

Written by the Revd Suzanne Cousins, the book is the eighth in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute’s ‘Braemor Studies’ series and is published by Church of Ireland Publishing (CIP).

It straddles the fields of Missiology and History of Religions, and is influenced by [Jurgen] Moltmann’s Theology of Hope, [Miroslav] Volf’s Theology of Embrace, and by the biblical hermeneutics and theological ethics of [Paul] Ricoeur (inhabiting the text, equivalence, superabundance and economy of gift).

The author reflects on the creative approach of the fourth-century-saint, Ephrem the Syrian, to interpreting Scripture and teaching orthodoxy. The question of the oneness and plurality of God as a theological concern for some Christians is explored, and whether the referents ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ are to the same God though differently understood is discussed, along with the contribution of Volf and others to this debate.

In addition, the theology and eirenic praxis of Christians who engaged with Muslims in the early Islamic world, including Francis of Assisi, are examined, while the desire of present-day Christians to be faithful in their allegiance to Jesus Christ – to his uniqueness, divinity, and status and identity as Lord – while engaging locally in Christian-Muslim encounter, is also explored.

Finally, the book identifies theological and pastoral challenges and concerns for clergy assisting their parishioners in everyday Christian-Muslim relationships.

In keeping with the inter-faith theme of the book, was extended to Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, the Head-Imam of Al-Mustafa Islamic Education & Cultural Centre Ireland, has accepted an invitation to attend the launch which will take place on Wednesday 14th March at 6.00pm at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin.

Copies of the book will be available for sale at the launch and thereafter through the Church of Ireland’s online bookstore and through the Book Well in Belfast for €6/£5.

A book that brings back memories of many cups of coffee and discussions in cafés in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 10:
Longford 8: Jesus meets
the women of Jerusalem

Station 8 in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford … Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Each morning in Lent, as part of my meditations and reflections for Lent this year, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations.

The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral last week and continues throughout Lent.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

For two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, sculpted by Ken Thompson in Bath stone with chisel and mallet, with lettering inspired by the work of Eric Gill and haloes picked out in gold leaf.

He uses blue to give a background dimension that works almost like a shadow in itself, providing the foreground figures with greater relief. The bright gold leaf haloes establish the central image of Christ as well as his mother and disciples or saints.

Rather than using the traditional title for each station, the text at the foot of each panel is allusive. He has chosen two lines of scripture for each panel, cut them in lettering inspired by Eric Gill, and highlighted them in terracotta.

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Later this evening [23 February 2018], I am speaking at a meeting of the Methodist Women of Ireland in the Methodist Church in Adare, Co Limerick. They have asked me to speak about my journey in life to ordained ministry.

In the journey along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, we have arrived this morning at Station VIII, where Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. Saint Luke is alone among the Gospel writers to tell the story recalled in this station:

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ (Luke 23: 26-35).

The ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ are mentioned several times in the Song of Solomon (see 1: 5, 2: 7, 3: 10-11, 5: 8, 5: 16). For example: ‘O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love’ (Song of Solomon 5: 8).
As the muse of the Beloved, the Daughters of Jerusalem help her choose rightly between the flashy wealth of the king and the ardent true love of the Shepherd. So we should expect the Daughters of Jerusalem in this scene to be filled with the love of God, to realise they have met their shepherd and their king.

In his response to these women, Jesus alludes to three Biblical passages. There may be an echo of Jeremiah 16: 1-4, where the prophet cited Israel’s devastation to explain why he had no wife or children. He quotes an expression of despair in Hosea 10: 8: ‘They shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us.’ This portrays people desperately crying for mountains and hills to provide shelter. And he refers to Ezekiel 20: 47: ‘Thus says the Lord God, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it.’

In this station in Longford, the Daughters of Jerusalem are represented by three women. One is clutching her child fretfully, the second is heavily pregnant, holding one hand against the chid in her womb and holding her daughter by the other, while the third woman has fallen to her knees in the path before Christ. In the background, six green shoots reflect Christ’s reference to the time ‘when the wood is green.’

The inscription in terracotta capital letters below the panel reads: ‘He Will Wipe Away Tears From All Eyes.’ This is a reference to both Isaiah and the Book of Revelation: ‘he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth’ (Isaiah 25: 8); ‘he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away’ (Revelation 21: 4).

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
For the sins of His own nation
Saw Him hang in desolation
Till His Spirit forth He sent.


Tears. Wailing. Daughters. Mothers. Grief.
Women beat their breasts and mourn openly,
for the Son of Man, but his concern is for them and their children
in the days of woe yet to come.


Son of Man, you told the women of Jerusalem to weep not for you but for themselves and their children. Give us the gift of tears for our own sins, that we may mourn the ways in which we fall short of the glory of God that we may truly repent and return to you. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus, as you carry your cross, you see a group of women along the road. As you pass by, you see they are sad. You stop to spend a moment with them, to offer them some encouragement. Although you have been abandoned by your friends and are in pain, you stop and try to help them.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow: Station 9: Jesus falls a third time.

Yesterday’s reflection

A painting of Jerusalem once seen in Little Jerusalem in Rathmines, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)